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Miramax Pictures presents
A Hard Day's Night (1964)

"Everything seems to be right..."
- from the title song

Review By: debi lee mandel  
Published: September 29, 2002

Stars: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Other Stars: Wilfrid Brambell, Victor Spinetti, Norman Rossington, John Junkin, Anna Quayle, Lionel Blair, Isla Blair, Bridget Armstrong, Roger Avon, Pattie Boyd, Phil Collins, Kenneth Haigh, Terry Hooper, Clare Kelly, Jeremy Lloyd, Margaret Nolan, Marianne Stone, Michael Trubshawe
Director: Richard Lester

MPAA Rating: G for general checkiness
Run Time: 01h:27m:45s
Release Date: September 24, 2002
UPC: 717951004864
Genre: musical comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ B+A-B- B

DVD Review

"Let's all get up and dance to a song/That was a hit before your mother was born/Though she was born a long, long time ago/Your mother should know/Your mother should know..."

Or your older brother, or your favorite aunt—somebody you know experienced Beatlemania first hand. Those of us (ahem) old enough to have experienced it, even young, remember it as a time of breathless anxiety, of generational hysteria. In my review two years ago of MPI's The Complete Beatles DVD Collector's Set, I said, "Even in retrospect, there is nothing anyone can find in any attempt to dissect Beatlemania that can change what HAPPENED." You can read all that, here. It will suffice to say, you had to be there. If you can open your imagination, this DVD will get you close.

A Hard Day's Night brought Beatlemania to critical mass on both sides of the Atlantic. The quickly inaccessible quartet were now as close as the local theater, and surging hordes of screaming, fainting and sobbing kids mobbed the doors as if the Fab Four were there in person. From the opening chord (G11sus4 to trivia freaks) of the title song, John, George and Ringo ran towards the camera, onto the screen and into our lives forever. (Don't panic—Paul makes his appearance 1 minute 53 seconds later.)

The setup is deceptively simple: a day in the life of The Beatles. The wickedly clever script by Alun Owen busies John, George, Paul and Ringo—along with Paul's grandfather, John McCartney (Brambell) and their road managers (Norman Rossington, John Junkin)—in the close quarters of a moving train, presumably from Liverpool to London ("Does he know what he's unleashed on the unsuspecting South?"), heading to a television appearance that evening. While some of the dialogue is ad lib, it all sounds as if it were; thus is the genius of the writer and the natural talent inherent in these inexperienced boys. The banter is still as witty today as it was then and in certain scenes, more poignant. While Wilfrid Brambell carries the weight of the subplots on his slight but steely shoulders, the four stars are always in focus and manage their way like pros. Victor Spinetti, the overanxious TV director, inspires some of the best unscripted barbs and earns his laughs as well.

Once the gang arrives in London, it doesn't take long for grandad to escape and havoc ensues. JPG&R split off and have various adventures and encounters on their own, thereby establishing unique aspects of their individual personalities. Of course, this led to generalizations and stereotypes for the "real" Beatles, but it did help to distinguish the four moptops for new fans.

There is indeed story structure here, and something more important: gone is the "Hey kids, I've got an idea, why don't we do a show right here?!" concept—although John says it just for fun—and instead, a new way of making movies is born. Not just music movies, but movies. The Beatles revolutionized music; Richard Lester revolutionized cinema. Combining the boys' natural exuberance and charisma with the cinéma vérité that was coming out of France at the time, this new director gave motion pictures a much needed shot of adrenaline that rushes past us at an ever-increasing pace to this day. On a $150K budget, this crew made history. Perhaps it's time to take a step back, Hollywood.

AHDN agilely portrays how JPG&R were surrounded by adults who condescended to them as well as the kids who worshipped them. When Ringo goes off on his "This Boy" wander, he meets an (almost) 11-year-old boy who talks about how things are with his mates and then runs back to where they're playing. For a moment, Ringo looks on the four carefree boys before moving on. Mostly, however, this is a played-for-laughs comedy, and some of the real gems are visual. I can't begin to imagine how many times I have seen this film, over the years and especially this past week; yet with every viewing I still see something more. One bit new to me happens as they all run out of the police station for the last time. John and Paul lead the way; a few seconds later, there's John again, behind the last bobby. No special effects or even editing here, just one of the oldest tricks in the book, which makes it all the more fun.

Despite the mayhem, all four Beatles arrive back at the studio on time and the show goes on. The film culminates in the only early Beatles concert in which you can hear the music—because it was overdubbed. After all the entertaining shenanigans, this is pay dirt. The beat, the harmonies, and the songs with which we can still sing along, even if clipped and overlapped a bit—a choice I'm sure Lester regrets—are still money in the bank. I doubt anyone complained back in 1964, and it's too late now.

All these years later, I still want to press my lips against John's mouth in that lingering close-up as he sings I Should've Known Better. I should know better, but I don't. And while I don't recommend this sort of behavior, that's the way it was... is, if you were there.

Sensation aside, The Beatles were music magic and these four boys matured into a talented musical partnership that impacted and inspired generations to come. The dream may be over, but The Beatles are forever. This release makes it so.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: This 1.66:1 OAR transfer has been cleaned up down to the details across about 95% of the footage. For the first time, I could see that in the "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You" scene, John's jacket is velvet. The grays are gorgeous and the contrast is sharp without creating any digital artifacts. With the handheld, documentary style of the film, the lighting was just right then and is represented well here. In some spots, most noticeably the "And I Love Her" segment in the TV studio, assorted blemishes flutter through the background and there is the most noise and grain I noted in the entire film. But heck, there's Paul playing the bass, left-handed...

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchno


Audio Transfer Review: The audio spreads across the soundfield in a more convincing manner than I expected. Ringo's highhat is occasionally hissy and the overdubs are more obvious than ever before. Paul's bass line and Ringo's beat occasionally stir the LFE, especially on She Loves You, but the main focus is front and center. John's voice is so clear on I Should Have Known Better, he's singing just for you. I don't imagine this soundtrack will ever be more than this, and it does its job.

The French dialogue track is in similar shape, and fun.

For the quick-British-banter-impaired, there are English subtitles to fill in the gaps.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Documentaries
25 Featurette(s)
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. DVD-Rom Features: Screenplay Viewer, Reproduction of the Entire First Draft of the Screenplay, A Hard Day's Night Scrapbook, Roundtable Discussions, Web Access
Extras Review: Until now, the 1993 Criterion CD-ROM version of AHDN was all I had, and while very small, it fit the bill. I think I'll still keep that around, but this Miramax release now has top honors.

Disc One

The main feature has 14 chapter stops and shares space with a "New Promotional Special" called Things They Said Today. Featuring screenwriter Alun Owen, director Richard Lester, producer Walter Shenson, musical director George Martin, actors Victor Spinetti and John Junkin and droves of others, this will seem like the last word on all things AHDN. Wrong. (See Disc Two below.)

Intercut with clips from the film, promotional images and advertisements as well as photos from the simultaneous premieres in London and Liverpool (Friday, July 10, 1964), this remains mostly a talking heads piece that covers everything a fan of this film—and its stars—want to know.

Disc Two

Here begins the mother of all coverage for A Hard Day's Night. This is guaranteed to be a test of how deep your Beatlemania runs; wannabe Beatlemaniacs will have to take this down in doses. I am indeed in the former category and still reached a breaking point with this endless, repetitive succession of talking heads. My advice here is: Take your time.

The interviews that make up the bonus features here are the full-length sessions from which the clips were excerpted for Things They Said Today—and then some. While only a selected few offer fresh information, there are tidbits in almost every one of the varying perspectives offered.

All cleverly named based on Beatles lyrics, the interviews are:

Their Production Will Be Second to None: Interviews With The Filmmakers
Look at My Direction (12m:06s)
Richard Lester discusses the structure of this seemingly unstructured production with some behind-the-scenes footage and more.

Then There Was Music (07m:08s)
Sir George Martin candidly discusses The Beatles' music and the influence of The Goon Show on the film's comedy, and sorts out their personalities in an interesting way.

Better Hurry Cause it May Not Last
David Picker, UA Executive
You Know His Name (09m:45s)
Denis O'Dell, Associate Producer

With the Beatles: Cast
Shake it Up Baby (04m:02s)
John Junkin, "Shake" (based on Mal Evans)
Happy Just to Dance (02m:44s)
Lionel Blair, "TV Choreographer"
The Future Still Looks Good (02m:50s)
Kenneth Haigh, "Simon Marshall" (TV exec whose office George wanders into)
This Boy (10m:00s)
David Jaxon, "Young Boy" (the one Ringo meets)
Give Us a Wink (02m:42s)
Tony Award winner Anna Quayle, "Millie"
I Act Like a Clown (04m:41s)
Jeremy Lloyd, "Jumping Club Dancer"
Well I'll Bet You
Terry Hooper, "Casino Croupier"

Working Like a Dog
Here to Show Everybody the Light (07m:17s)
Gilbert Taylor, Director of Photography
Tell Us What You See (04m:16s)
Paul Wilson, Camera Operator
Every Head She's Had the Pleasure to Know (02m:51s)
Betty Glasgow, Hairdresser
We Shall Scrimp and Save (05m:58s)
Barrie Melrose, 2nd Assistant Director

Busy Working Overtime
In the Thick of It (04m:01s)
Pam Tomling and Roy Benson, Assistant Editors
Every Sound There Is (02m:44s)
Gordon Daniels and Jim Roddan, Sound Editors
Listen to the Music Playing in Your Head (11m:44s)
Another candid piece with Sir George Martin, this time including what might for some be a controversial but studied song-by-song perspective.
Such a Clean Old Man! Memories of Wilfrid Brambell (05m:02s)
Alan Simpson and Ray Galton creators/writers of the series Steptoe and Son discuss the late actor with clips from their show.
I've Lost My Little Girl (04m:20s)
Isla Blair, Richard Lester and others discuss how Blair ended up on the cutting room floor.
Taking Testimonial Pictures (09m:54s)
Robert Freeman, Photographer
Freeman shot the black photo cover of With The Beatles/Meet The Beatles (UK/US, respectively) and created the semi-animated polyphotos for AHDN's closing credits.
Dressed to the Hilt (07m:35s)
Gordon Millings represents his father, Dudley, a Liverpudlian tailor responsible for the style of their round-necked and velvet-collared suits (the collarless suits came from a tailor in France).
Dealing With "The Men From the Press" (17m:49s)
Tony Barrow, The Beatles Publicist
They and I Have Memories (07m:25s)
Klaus Voorman, lifelong friend (played at the Concert for Bangladesh)
Hitting the Big Time in the USA (03m:56s)
Sid Berman, promoter who brought them to the States

DVD-ROM features are listed as: a screenplay viewer and a reproduction of the entire first draft of the screenplay, A Hard Day's Night scrapbook, something called "Roundtable Discussions," and web access. I am unable to review this material, however, as I am a Mac user.

Last, but far from least, the menu design for this release is simply outstanding, and other than the duotone, minds the feel of the film very well. However, if the noise of Beatlemania didn't drive you insane the first time round, the brief audio loop on this supplemental disc just might.

I suppose a commentary would be redundant at this point, but it might have been preferred.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

It might be easy for those too young to remember the infectious rumbling that would become Beatlemania to dismiss A Hard Day's Night. The best I can do is to remind them that nothing like this had ever been done before: the hysteria, the music, the movie. Firsts only happen once, and sometimes, you have to be there. To understand the crush, yes; to appreciate this film, no: it's still here. Enthusiastically recommended for everyone.

 


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